“You can’t take over the space when we haven’t even had the chance to put our foot in the door. Help us get to the table so we can all eat," said Arlene Pitterson.
Since its beginnings in 2013, New York City’s Afro-Latino Festival has provided a positive space to celebrate and pay tribute to the work of Latinx with Afrodescendant roots through networking, cultural exchange, artistic showcases and education. This weekend, the festival returned to downtown Brooklyn for its seventh year, and People CHICA was on hand for several events.
The festival kicked off July 12 with a three-part AfroLatinTalks panel and podcast. The first panel, “What’s Next?: Media, Marketing and Afro-Latinx,” focused on where the Afro-Latinx community goes from here. The term has become more popular in recent years, but there is a concern that the movement’s narrative has shifted, and that the term is being claimed by those with little knowledge of the community who want to capitalize on that growing interest.
“What’s Next?” panelists included multimedia journalist Janel Martinez, L’Oréal assistant vice president of diversity and inclusion Cecilia Nelson-Hurt, Blactina Media’s Nydia Simone, and marketing strategist Arlene Pitterson, who moderated. The group discussed the current state of representation and visibility for Afro-Latinx, and stressed the importance of Afro-Latinx media professionals advocating for change across many industries.
“We are such a diverse group of people that it’s really hard to sort of have certain conversations,” said Chula author Amanda Alcantara in her opening remarks. “We are so diverse; we have different ethnic groups within Afro-Latinidad…and because of that spaces like the Afro-Latino Festival are super important.”
The Afro-Latino conversation is not new, though it’s sometimes seen as such by non-black Latinx. The term has become more of a trend in mainstream media since Amara La Negra’s Love & Hip Hop: Miami moment, and though strides are being made toward representation and inclusion, there’s still a lot of work to be done. The panelists discussed what they do within their own professions to make sure multiple voices are being heard. L’Oréal’s Cecilia Nelson-Hurt said she tries to make sure everyone is being seen in the cosmetics market. “People are not being presented accurately,” she said. “We are not just black — we are black and Hispanic. We speak multitudes of languages. I’m using my platform to educate.”
Though known as one of the most productive writers in the Afro-Latinx community, Janel Martinez said that getting her work out there still requires a lot of behind-the-scenes advocating and organizing. “People think it’s like sailing to get a piece published, [but] I do a lot of education with editors,” she said. Part of that education is spreading awareness of the nuances of Afro-Latinidad to white Latinx and those who hope to be allies of the community. Arlene Pitterson broke it down simply: “When it comes to being an ally, there’s a way to do it in an authentic way and an inauthentic way. First, recognize that you have an advantage.” Allies need to understand that they will have opportunities and advantages that many in the community will not have. “In my family we have blond hair blue eyes to dark skin, [but] we’re all Afro-Latino,” Pitterson continued. “Knowing that we have different experiences with being Afro-Latino, it’s speaking to that and saying, ‘I don’t have the same experience as my cousin or grandmother.'”
Pitterson also explained that when you are in a position of power and/or non-black, questions regarding Afro-Latinidad should be handed to those who actually experience discrimination and are actively advocating for the same issues. “Gear it to someone who is more involved in the space than you might be,” she advised. “If you don’t have the answer, send them to someone who will. You can’t take over the space when we haven’t even had the chance to put our foot in the door. Help us get to the table so we can all eat.”
This panel was just one event at the festival that addressed concerns surrounding visibility and representation. The theme this year was #ReclaimingCulture+Space, and paid homage to Afro-Latino legends in music but also those actively working in media, marketing and music. The first day continued with a Diaspora Day Party which featured Bobbito Garcia aka Kool Bob Love, DJ Nina Vicious and poet Felipe Luciano; together they led a tribute to Puerto Rican songwriter Catalino Curet Alonso. The day party also featured Haitian American DJ Stakz, Latin rock band Making Movies and mariachi band Flor de Toloache. Proceeds from the festival will go toward the digital and archival platform Afrolatin@ Project, which shares research, oral histories and lived experiences.
Through advocacy, networking and showcases like the Afro-Latino Festival, Afro-Latinos will soon be heard across the board. Though the community is still on the long road to visibility and proper representation, the work is being done.